Catholics fully recognize that Jesus Christ died on the Cross for their sins and thus ``opened the gates of Heaven,'' and that salvation is a free gift which no amount of human good deeds could ever earn. Catholics receive Christ's saving and sanctifying grace, and Christ Himself, into their souls when they are baptized. Yet they also know that Christ has established certain conditions for entry into eternal happiness in Heaven--for example, receiving His true Flesh and Blood (John 6:54) and keeping the commandments (Matt. 19:17). If a Christian refuses or neglects to obey Our Lord's commands in a grave matter (that is, if he commits a mortal sin), Our Lord will not remain dwelling in his soul; and if a Christian dies in that state, having driven his Lord from his soul by serious sin, he will not be saved. As St. Paul warned the Galatians with regard to certain sins: ``They who do such things shall not obtain the kingdom of God.'' (Gal. 5:21). It must be added that Christ will always forgive and return to a sinner who approaches Him with sincerity in the Sacrament of Penance.
Catholics follow St. Paul, who did not think that his salvation was guaranteed once and for all at the moment he first received Christ into his soul; for he wrote: ``I chastise my body, and bring it into subjection: lest perhaps, when I have preached to others, I myself should become a castaway.'' (I Cor. 9:27). Also: ``With fear and trembling work out your salvation. For it is God who worketh in you...'' (Phil. 2:12-13). ``And unto whomsoever much is given, of him much shall be required.'' (Luke 12:48). ``He that shall persevere unto the end, he shall be saved.'' (Matt. 10:22). Nevertheless, Catholics realize that even the fulfilling of Our Lord's requirements for salvation is impossible without the free gift of His grace.
For the Catholic Church salvation engages the depth of the human heart. Faith is of course necessary for salvation, but the necessary corollary of faith is baptism, the sacrament that initiates believers into the life of Christ. In baptism, the Church includes those who, while not formally baptized, have given their lives for Christ (called baptism of blood), and those who die before being baptized, but with a sincere desire for baptism along with charity and repentance for their sins (called baptism of desire). (cf. CCC nos. 1258-1259) Nevertheless, it may well be that God has other provisions for some, because the ways of God's grace and infinite mercy remain a mystery to the finite mind of man.
The Church does not know of any means other than Baptism that assures entry into eternal beatitude; this is why she takes care not to neglect the mission she has received from the Lord to see that all who can be baptized are ``reborn of water and the Spirit.'' God has bound salvation to the sacrament of Baptism, but he himself is not bound by his sacraments. (CCC no. 1257)But for the Church, faith is more than a legal state of accord with God obtained by belief in a man named Jesus who lived two thousand years ago. Jesus is more than a man-- he is the Son of the Eternal Father through whom the cosmos was made. He is the archetype of all that is, and especially of the summit of visible creation, man. Thus, faith in Christ represents not only belief in Jesus, but also a special relationship to Truth-- the truth about one's self and the rest of the universe.
Every man who is ignorant of the Gospel of Christ and his Church, but seeks the truth and does the will of God in accordance with his understanding of it, can be saved. It may be supposed that such persons would have desired Baptism explicitly if they had known its necessity. (CCC no. 1260, cf. no. 1258 on baptism by desire)
Those who, through no fault of their own, do not know the Gospel of Christ or his Church, but who nevertheless seek God with a sincere heart, and, moved by grace, try in their actions to do his will as they know it through the dictates of their conscience--those too many achieve eternal salvation. (Lumen Gentium 16)http://www.columbia.edu/cu/augustine/a/salvation.html
From Catholic Answers:
Full QuestionWhy does the Roman Catholic Church teach the doctrine of "works righteousness," that through good works one can earn salvation?
The Catholic Church has never taught such a doctrine and, in fact, has constantly condemned the notion that men can earn or merit salvation. Catholic soteriology (salvation theology) is rooted in apostolic Tradition and Scripture and says that it is only by God's grace--completely unmerited by works--that one is saved.
The Church teaches that it's God's grace from beginning to end which justifies, sanctifies, and saves us. As Paul explains in Philippians 2:13, "God is the one, who, for his good purpose, works in you both to desire and to work."
Notice that Paul's words presuppose that the faithful Christian is not just desiring to be righteous, but is actively working toward it. This is the second half of the justification equation, and Protestants either miss or ignore it.
James 2:17 reminds us that "faith of itself, if it does not have work, is dead." In verse 24 James says, "See how a person is justified by works and not by faith alone." And later: "For just as a body without a spirit is dead, so also faith without works is dead" (2:26).
The Council of Trent harmonizes the necessity of grace and works: "If anyone says that man can be justified before God by his own works, whether done by his own natural powers or by the teaching of the Law, without divine grace through Jesus Christ, let him be anathema" (Session 6; can. 1).
The Council fathers continued by saying, "If anyone says that the sinner is justified by faith alone, meaning that nothing else is required to cooperate in order to obtain the grace of justification and that it is not in any way necessary that he be prepared and disposed by the action of his own will, let him be anathema" (Session 6: can. 9).
By the way, "let him be anathema" means "let him be excommunicated," not "let him be cursed to hell." The phrase was used in conciliar documents in a technical, theological sense, not in the same sense as the word "anathema" is found in Scripture. Don't let "Bible Christians" throw you for a loop on this one.
So, far from teaching a doctrine of "works righteousness" (that would be Pelagianism, which was condemned at the Council of Carthage in A.D. 418), the Catholic Church teaches the true, biblical doctrine of justification.
Another from Catholic Answers:
Full QuestionIn John 3:16 Jesus says, "For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son that whomsoever believes in him shall not perish but have everlasting life." It's clear that Scripture rejects the Catholic view of salvation by faith plus works. It teaches salvation by faith alone. All you have to do is believe, period.
First of all, the Catholic view of salvation is not faith plus works, if by works you mean purely human efforts to win God's favor.
Catholics believe in salvation by grace alone, yet grace must not be resisted, either before justification (by remaining in unbelief) or after (by engaging in serious sin). Read carefully 1 Corinthians 6, Galatians 5, and Ephesians 5.
Second, the Bible nowhere uses the expressions "justification by faith alone" or "salvation by faith alone." The first was directly the invention of Luther; the second his by implication. Luther inserted "alone" into the German translation of Romans 3:28 to give credence to his new doctrine.
But your question deals with John 3:16. Yes, this passage does speak of the saving power of faith, but in no sense does it diminish the role of obedience to Christ in the process of getting to heaven.
In fact, it assumes it. Just as Fundamentalists overlook the rest of the chapter in connection with what being born of water and the Holy Spirit really means--they ignore the water part, which refers to baptism--they also overlook the context when interpreting Christ's words about obtaining eternal life in John 3:16.
In John 3:36 we are told, "Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life, but whoever disobeys the Son will not see life, but the wrath of God remains upon him."
This expands on John 3:16. It is another way of saying what Paul says in Romans 6:23: "The wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord."
Although we cannot earn God's unmerited favor by our good works, we can reject his love by our sins (that is, by our evil works) and thereby lose the eternal life he freely offers us in Christ.
BIBLE SAYS FAITH AND WORKS NEEDED FOR SALVATION
|During the Protestant Reformation in the early 1500s, a familiar term regarding salvation was "sola fide," Latin for "by faith alone." The reformers, at that time, accused the Catholic Church of departing from the "simple purity of the Gospel" of Jesus Christ. They stated it was faith alone, without works of any kind, that brought a believer to eternal life. They defined this faith as "the confidence of man, associated with the certainty of salvation, because the merciful Father will forgive sins because of Christ's sake."This view of salvation is a crucial issue because it strikes at the very heart of the Gospel message eternal life. Roman Catholicism teaches that we are not saved by faith alone. The Church has taught this since 30 A.D. as part of the Divine Revelation. The truth of the Catholic Church's teaching can be demonstrated from Sacred Scripture alone.|
All who claim the title "Christian" will be able to agree on the following two truths: salvation is by grace alone (Ephesians 2:8) and salvation is through Christ alone (Acts 4:12). These biblical facts will be our foundation as we explain the teaching of the Catholic Church.
If we take a concordance and look up every occurrence of the word "faith," we come up with an undeniable fact the only time the phrase "faith alone" is used in the entire Bible is when it is condemned (James 2:24). The epistle of James only mentions it in the negative sense.
The Bible tells us we must have faith in order to be saved (Hebrews 11:6). Yet is faith nothing more than believing and trusting? Searching the Scriptures, we see faith also involves assent to God's truth (1 Thessalonians 2:13), obedience to Him (Romans 1:5, 16:26), and it must be working in love (Galatians 5:6). These points appeared to be missed by the reformers, yet they are just as crucial as believing and trusting. (1 Corinthians 13:1-3) should be heeded by all it's certainly an attention grabber.
Paul speaks of faith as a life-long process, never as a one-time experience (Philippians 2:12). He never assumes he has nothing to worry about. If he did, his words in (1 Corinthians 9:24-27) would be nonsensical. He reiterates the same point again in his second letter to Corinth (2 Corinthians 13:5). He takes nothing for granted, yet all would agree if anyone was "born again" it certainly was Paul. Our Lord and Savior spoke of the same thing by "remaining in Him" (John 15:1-11).
Paul tells us our faith is living and can go through many stages. It never stays permanently fixed after a single conversion experience no matter how genuine or sincere. Our faith can be shipwrecked (1 Timothy 1:19), departed from (1 Timothy 4:1), disowned (1 Timothy 5:8) wandered from (1 Timothy 6:10), and missed (1 Timothy 6:21). Christians do not have a "waiver" that exempts them from these verses.
Do our works mean anything? According to Jesus they do (Matthew 25:31-46). The people rewarded and punished are done so by their actions. And our thoughts (Matthew 15:18-20) and words (James 3:6-12) are accountable as well. These verses are just as much part of the Bible as Romans 10:8-13 and John 3:3-5.
Some will object by appealing to Romans 4:3 and stating Abraham was "declared righteous" before circumcision. Thus he was only saved by "believing" faith (Genesis 15:6), not by faith "working in love" (Galatians 5:6). Isn't this what Paul means when he says none will be justified by "works of law" (Romans 3:28)? No, this is not what he means. He's condemning the Old Covenant sacrifices and rituals which couldn't justify and pointing to better things now in Christ Jesus in the New Covenant (Hebrews 7-10). A close examination of Abraham's life revealed a man of God who did something. In Genesis 12-14 he makes two geographical moves, builds an altar and calls on the Lord, divides land with Lot to end quarrels, pays tithes, and refuses goods from the King of Sodom to rely instead on God's providence. He did all these works as an old man. It was certainly a struggle. After all these actions of faith, then he's "declared righteous" (Genesis 15:6). Did these works play a role in his justification? According to the Bible, yes.
The Catholic Church has never taught we "earn" our salvation. It is an inheritance (Galatians 5:21), freely given to anyone who becomes a child of God (1 John 3:1), so long as they remain that way (John 15:1-11). You can't earn it but you can lose the free gift given from the Father (James 1:17).
The reformer's position cannot be reconciled with the Bible. That is why the Catholic Church has taught otherwise for over 1,960 years.
Where does our assistance come from to reach our heavenly destination? Philippians 4:13 says it all, "I can do all things in Him who strengthens me."
(Sal Ciresi has lectured on apologetics in the diocese of Arlington, VA and has resided in Northern Virginia since his discharge from the Marine Corps in 1991.)